Thursday, December 19, 2013

America First?

. One upshot of Singer's views on alleviating hunger comes I believe, from his utilitarianism. According to Utilitarianism, we are to maximize the total balance of pleasure over pain, and in counting this, we are to consider each person's happiness as equal to everyone else's. Hence, my happiness, or that of my family, should count no more from the moral point of view than anyone else's happiness. 
Countering this is the sentiment of Marty Robbins' song "In My Own Native Land." A lot of people who read Singer's essay say that we should help America first, as Marty Robbins implies. Singer disagrees. What do you think? Is it ethical to say "America First?"

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Jimmy Carter on Fundamentalists

“A fundamentalist can’t bring himself or herself to negotiate with people who disagree with them because the negotiating process itself is an indication of implied equality.”

Jimmy Carter August 17, 2006

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Witch hunts, and their secular counterparts

I see John Loftus is using witch hunts as the basis for attacking Christianity. So, there won't be witch hunts if we just give up Christianity.

No, but there have been secular equivalents, including this one.  But since it was in Soviet Russia, it doesn't count.

Monday, December 16, 2013

A J Ayer's Near Death Experience


Is there just one moral absolute?

Philosophical naturalists often take relativistic views on ethics. Yet, there seems to be one ethical area about which they are absolutists, and that is the ethics of belief. They say with Clifford "It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence." In fact, to some of them, this seems to be more obviously true than "It is wrong, always and everywhere, and for anyone, to inflict pain on little children for your own amusement." 

I don't understand this. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A note from the Discovery Institute about the so-called Wedge Document

The following is a response by Rob Crowther on the so-called Wedge Document. What is interesting is that the Forrest and Gross book is recommended by people like Dawkins, Pinker, and E. O. Wilson.

What can be learned from this? The fact is that in their desire to defend science against ID, the people who should be expected to be proportioning their belief to the evidence have bought in on a ridiculous conspiracy theory. As I have written previously, nonspecialists have to rely, to large extent, on the credibility of the experts in the scientific community. Fiascos like these damage the credibility of the Darwinist community, and in the final analysis, of Darwinism itself.

The “Wedge Document”: How Darwinist Paranoia Fueled an Urban Legend

In 1999 someone posted on the internet an early fundraising proposal for Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture. Dubbed the “Wedge Document,” this proposal soon took on a life of its own, popping up in all sorts of places and eventually spawning what can only be called a giant urban legend. Among true-believers on the Darwinist fringe the document came to be viewed as evidence for a secret conspiracy to fuse religion with science and impose a theocracy. These claims were so outlandish that for a long time we simply ignored them. But because some credulous Darwinists seem willing to believe almost anything, we decided we should set the record straight.

1. The Background

§ In 1996 Discovery Institute established the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture (now just the Center for Science & Culture). Its main functions were (1) to support research by scientists and other scholars who were critical of neo-Darwinism and by those who were developing the emerging scientific theory of intelligent design; and (2) to explore, in various ways, the multiple connections between science and culture.

§ To raise financial support for the Center, Discovery Institute prepared a fundraising proposal that explained the overall rationale for the Center and why a think tank like Discovery would want to start such an entity in the first place. Like most fundraising proposals, this one included a multi-year budget and a list of goals to be achieved.

2. The Rise of an Urban Legend

§ In 1999 a copy of this fundraising proposal was posted by someone on the internet. The document soon spread across the world wide web, gaining almost mythic status among some Darwinists.

§ That’s when members of the Darwinist fringe began saying rather loopy things. For example, one group claimed that the document supplied evidence of a frightening twenty-year master plan “to have religion control not only science, but also everyday life, laws, and education”!

§ Barbara Forrest, a Louisiana professor on the board of a group called the New Orleans Secular Humanist Association, similarly championed the document as proof positive of a sinister conspiracy to abolish civil liberties and unify church and state. Forrest insisted that the document was “crucially important,” and she played up its supposed secrecy, claiming at one point that its “authenticity…has been neither affirmed nor denied by the Discovery Institute.” Poor Prof. Forrest—if she really wanted to know whether the document was authentic, all she had to do was ask. (She didn’t.)

§ There were lots of ironies as this urban legend began to grow, but Darwinist true-believers didn’t seem capable of appreciating them:

Discovery Institute, the supposed mastermind of this “religious” conspiracy, was in fact a secular organization that sponsored programs on a wide array of issues, including mass transit, technology policy, the environment, and national defense.
At the time the “Wedge Document” was being used by Darwinists to stoke fears about Christian theocracy, the Chairman of Discovery’s Board was Jewish, its President was an Episcopalian, and its various Fellows represented an eclectic range of religious views ranging from Roman Catholic to agnostic. It would have been news to them that they were all part of a fundamentalist cabal.
Far from promoting a union between church and state, Discovery Institute sponsored for several years a seminar for college students that advocated religious liberty and the separation between church and state.
3. What the Document Actually Says

§ The best way to dispel the paranoia of the conspiracy-mongers is to actually look at the document in question. It simply doesn’t advocate the views they attribute to it.

§ First and foremost, and contrary to the hysterical claims of some Darwinists, this document does not attack “science” or the “scientific method.” In fact, it is pro-science. What the document critiques is “scientific materialism,” which is the abuse of genuine science by those who claim that science supports the unscientific philosophy of materialism.

§ Second, the document does not propose replacing “science” or the “scientific method” with “God” or “religion.” Instead, it supports a science that is “consonant” (i.e., harmonious) with theism, rather than hostile to it. To support a science that is “consonant” with religion is not to claim that religion and science are the same thing. They clearly aren’t. But it is to deny the claim of scientific materialists that science is somehow anti-religious.

§ Following are the document’s major points, which we still are happy to affirm:

(1) “The proposition that human beings are created in the image of God is one of the bedrock principles on which Western civilization is built. Its influence can be detected in most, if not all, of the West’s greatest achievements, including representative democracy, human rights, free enterprise, and progress in the arts and sciences.” As a historical matter, this statement happens to be true. The idea that humans are created in the image of God has had powerful positive cultural consequences. Only a member of a group with a name like the “New Orleans Secular Humanist Association” could find anything objectionable here. (By the way, isn’t it strange that a group supposedly promoting “theocracy” would praise “representative democracy” and “human rights”?)

(2) “Yet a little over a century ago, this cardinal idea came under wholesale attack by intellectuals drawing on the discoveries of modern science. Debunking the traditional conceptions of both God and man, thinkers such as Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud portrayed humans not as moral and spiritual beings, but as animals or machines who inhabited a universe ruled by purely impersonal forces and whose behavior and very throughts were dictated by the unbending forces of biology, chemistry, and environment.” This statement highlights one of the animating concerns of Discovery Institute as a public policy think tank. Leading nineteenth century intellectuals tried to hijack science to promote their own anti-religious agenda. This attempt to enlist science to support an anti-religious agenda continues to this day with Darwinists like Oxford’s Richard Dawkins, who boldly insists that Darwinism supports atheism. We continue to think that such claims are an abuse of genuine science, and that this abuse of real science has led to pernicious social consequences (such as the eugenics crusade pushed by Darwinist biologists early in the twentieth century).

(3) “Discovery Institute’s Center... seeks nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies.” It wants to “reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.” We admit it: We want to end the abuse of science by Darwinists like Richard Dawkins and E.O. Wilson who try to use science to debunk religion, and we want to provide support for scientists and philosophers who think that real science is actually “consonant with… theistic convictions.” Please note, however: “Consonant with” means “in harmony with.” It does not mean “same as.” Recent developments in physics, cosmology, biochemistry, and related sciences may lead to a new harmony between science and religion. But that doesn’t mean we think religion and science are the same thing. We don’t.

(4) “Without solid scholarship, research and argument, the project would be just another attempt to indoctrinate instead of persuade.” It is precisely because we are interested in encouraging intellectual exploration that the “Wedge Document” identified the “essential” component of its program as the support of scholarly “research, writing and publication.” The document makes clear that the primary goal of Discovery Institute’s program in this area is to support scholars so they can engage in research and publication Scholarship comes first. Accordingly, by far the largest program in the Center’s budget has been the awarding of research fellowships to biologists, philosophers of science, and other scholars to engage in research and writing.

(5) “The best and truest research can languish unread and unused unless it is properly publicized.” It’s shocking but true—Discovery Institute actually promised to publicize the work of its scholars in the broader culture! What’s more, it wanted to engage Darwinists in academic debates at colleges and universities! We are happy to say that we still believe in vigorous and open discussion of our ideas, and we still do whatever we can to publicize the work of those we support. So much for the “secret” part of our supposed “conspiracy/”

§ A final thought: Don’t Darwinists have better ways to spend their time than inventing absurd conspiracy theories about their opponents? The longer Darwinists persist in spinning such urban legends, the more likely it is that fair-minded people will begin to question whether Darwinists know what they are talking about.

To see the complete original text of the document and read a more detailed response go to: The Wedge Document: So What? (


Robert L. Crowther

Director of Communications

Center for Science & Culture

Secular Sources of Morality

There are two “secular” sources for a moral life. One is our natural sympathy for others, and the other is social usefulness of much moral behavior. But I am not sure these motivations cover all the cases of morality.

Religion and Warfare

There have been wars in which religious motivation has been a factor, although I think a lot of these things are political with a religious justification. For example, the Irish don’t like the British presence in their country, and probably wouldn’t even if there were no religious differences between Britain and Ireland.

Non-religious and even anti-religious states, such as the Soviet Union, have not made the world more peaceful. If some political leader were to decide that what was holding the human race back was religious belief, I could imagine them starting a war to attack religion. The only countries that have been officially atheistic have been communist countries, and they have a bad track record.

Tipler on creationism

Falsifiable Young Universe Theory   
Speaking of Tipler, be sure not to miss his paper, "How to 
Construct a Falsifiable Theory in Which the Universe Came Into 
Being Several Thousand Years Age,"  PSA  1984, Proceedings of the 
Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association (Vol. 2, 
pp. 873-902). Tipler is not a creationist, indeed, he writes, "I 
personally am an atheist" (p. 895), but he finds that "the 
political position taken by many opponents of the creationists 
offends my liberal instincts" (p. 874). Further, Tipler argues that 
federal judge  William Overton  made a serious error in his 1982 
Arkansas decision, when Overton ruled that creation  ex nihilo  is 
"inherently religious;" Tipler writes:

The problem with this is that..the standard big bang theory has 
the Universe coming into existence out of nothing, and 
cosmologists use the phrase "creation of the universe" to 
describe this phenomenon! Thus if we accepted Judge Overton's 
idea that creation out of nothing is inherently religious, it 
would be illegal to teach the big bang theory at state 
universities! I pointed out this amusing implication of Judge 
Overton's opinion to John Wheeler, who teaches big bang cosmology 
with great enthusiasm at the University of Texas, and he wrote to
me that "he would be unable to obey the law" [i.e., Overton's
decision]. (p. 894)

This paper is fascinating, but beware:  you'll need (at least) a
Ph.D. for the astrophysics.

Can science tell us why matter exists?

We have theories about why nonliving matter became living, and how simple life-forms evolved into more complex ones. What science can’t tell us is why there is any matter at all, as opposed to no matter. 

Or can it?

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Attacking ID with the wrong stick?

A redated post.

In an oped piece in the Christian Science Monitor, Alexander George says that the enterprise of demarcating science from pseudoscience is a historically a failure. So while he opposed ID and the attempt to bring it into the school classrooms, he is critical of the attempt to use a distinction between science and pseudoscience to argue against its inclusion.

My own study in the philosophy of science reached much the same conclusion where Creationism was concerned. After Judge Overton used a demarcationist argument to strike down the Arkansas creationism law, both Philip Quinn and Larry Laudan, neither of them defenders of creationism by any stretch of the imagination, argued that the judge had accepted bad arguments from expert witnesses in support of their conclusions.

Larry Laudan, "Commentary: Science at the Bar - Causes for Concern,"
_Science, Technology and Human Values_ v7 n41 (Fall 1982) 16-19.

Philip L. Quinn, "The Philosopher of Science as Expert Witness," in C. F.
Delaney, J. T. Cushing, G. Gutting, eds., _Science and Reality_ (University
of Notre Dame Press, 1984) 32-53

and more generally:

Larry Laudan, "The Demise of the Demarcation Problem," repr. in M. Ruse,
ed., _But Is It Science?_ (Prometheus Books, 1988) 337-350

I was even told that when Judge Overton ruled there were Big Bang cosmologists who pleaded with the judge not to use the criteria he did to define science because it would not only rule out creationism, but modern cosmology as well.